Subha Speaks Out
In Amsterdam, a city of immigrants, peace and prosperity prevail. Why can’t we follow suit?
How the city of Amsterdam thrives on diversity.
Iwas recently in Amsterdam with my family to celebrate my daughter’s milestone 30th birthday and my son’s graduation from Hamilton College. In my four days walking all over the city, I was struck by several things. I saw only one police officer—and not a single homeless person. The people were gentle, polite and warm. This was in stark contrast to New York City, San Francisco and Chicago, among the U.S.’s largest and most vibrant cities, and even some other European cities, such as Paris and London.
As I delved into what the reasons for this could be, I learned that among the population of about 844,000 people—55 percent Dutch and 45 percent ethnic minorities—there are 180 different nationalities, making it one of the most diverse cities in the world. Throw in lots of cannabis coffee shops, a legal red-light district and a live-and-let-live attitude; this is a city with a culture of acceptance.
The non-Dutch came as immigrants in the 16th and 17th centuries—some to escape religious persecution and others for better economic conditions. They were Sephardic Jews, Huguenots, Flemings and Westphalians. In the 20th century, Indonesians arrived after their country’s liberation from the Dutch East India Company, followed by guest workers from Italy, Spain, Morocco and Turkey, and then Surinamese after ceasing to be part of a Dutch colony. The Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to recognize same-sex marriage; they’re incredibly welcoming of the LGBTQ
community. It’s clear that like the U.S., they are a country of immigrants. So, what are they doing differently that causes there to be a welcoming calm and generosity of spirit compared with the upheaval we are experiencing in the United States?
For one, the country’s and city’s governments value the benefits that accrue from having diversity in their populations; they spend time and money on policymaking to ensure a culture of inclusion. For example, even in less-affluent communities that tend to be inhabited by ethnic minority groups, the government does everything in its power to prevent the formation of ghettos. Plus, there’s a reflection of the diversity of the population across government workers. And the Multicultural Emancipation Bureau has an ombudsman service for women and multicultural people, which, along with many private organizations, ensure support for black, white and immigrant women.
The question that begs to be asked is how have Amsterdam and the Netherlands leveraged their diversity to create both inclusion and a successful capitalistic society while we struggle to do so? Is it our history of slavery? Is it that there is no
“How have Amsterdam and the Netherlands leveraged their diversity to create both inclusion and a successful capitalistic society while we struggle to do so?”
equivalent of a thriving and successful indigenous population like their Dutch community? Is it because our government does not go far enough to prevent poverty and segregation? Is it because our Puritanical forefathers were so judgmental that the mentality that punishes wrongdoing so harshly has seeped into our country’s DNA?
I don’t have answers, but I know one thing:
I wish we were more like the Dutch—and I really wish New York were still New Amsterdam!
Tranquility is nearly ubiquitous in Amsterdam.